The first round of voting in Poland's presidential elections ended with a huge surprise. Incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski has reason to be nervous, writes DW'S Bartosz Dudek. Perhaps, change is on the horizon.
For a long time, President Komorowski's re-election was regarded as a sure thing. It was merely unclear whether he would be confirmed in office after the first round of voting, or only after the run-off. But events took a different turn. After the surprising victory of conservative opposition challenger Andrzej Duda in the first round, the incumbent has reason to be nervous about the results of the runoff in two weeks time.
The outcome of the vote is a surprise not only because the country's most popular politician lost against a challenger who was unknown not too long ago. The gap between Duda and Komorowski - 34.5 percent compared to 33.1 percent - may appear to be slight, but the result is a clear slap in the face for the entire Warsaw establishment. The real winner of the first round is former rock star Pawel Kukiz, who garnered one out of five votes. Mainly young adults and students voted for the "anti-establishment" candidate, and these are just the voters who will decide which of the two remaining candidates will win the runoff.
Young Poles are dissatisfied
Kukiz's result shows that many voters, in particular the younger ones, are tired of established politics. They don't all benefit from the economic boom that many members of the ruling parties are so proud of. Hundreds of thousands of young Poles have emigrated to Britain and Germany over the past ten years. The average jobless rate in Poland may be no more than eight percent, but youth unemployment has reached 20 percent.
In 2007, Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform party (PO) owed their landslide victory to young voters. Now, however, PO candidate Komorowski's statesmanlike but boring campaign apparently did not resonate with the younger generation this time. Regarded as the face of a smug establishment, Komorowski was punished. Poland's lowest voter turnout in recent memory for a presidential election - 49 percent - signals a general disenchantment with politics. The PO, once a centrist party, has become a symbol of the establishment, with Komorowski as its face.
Test ahead of fall election
Duda's surprisingly good results show Jaroslaw Kaczynski had the right strategy: The head of the conservative Law and Justice opposition party (PiS) sent an unknown, congenial young politician to the forefront, one who had the additional bonus of a blessing by the country's influential Catholic Church. The new face and the hope for change apparently appealed to many conservative voters.
The outcome of the run-off ballot on May 24 is wide open, but voter turnout will be crucial. In the past, low voter turnout has favored the conservative camp. Poland's constitution does not give the president a lot of power, but it is sufficient to paralyze the government. A win by Duda, with Kaczynski in the background, could be the first sign of a change from the liberal back to the conservative camp. A change that might come full circle in national polls later this year.
Have something to say? Add your comments below.